Category Archives: Immigration

Trump v.s. Immigration

There’s something surreal about discussing Donald Trump’s policy positions. It’s like discussing my cat’s nutritional and exercise choices — they both just do what they do because of what they are. Trump’s plan for everything is that all things will be better because Trump will be doing them. His so-called “positions” are just the talking points his staff has put together. I think reporters could get some mileage asking him questions about the details and seeing how much he remembers.


Trump’s only position paper so far is on immigration, and I’d like to address just a few of the points he makes.

When politicians talk about “immigration reform” they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders.

Well, all three of those things sound pretty good to me. Keeping residents on the run from the immigration police all their lives is a recipe for a rebellious underclass, I certainly don’t want to have to buy all my goods and services from overpriced labor, and with open borders it won’t cost as much to fight illegal immigration because most of it will be legal.

Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:

1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.

If a nations must have borders and borders must have walls… So, we’re still not a nation yet then, are we?

(Remaining two points omitted because they are empty slogans.)

Meanwhile, Mexico continues to make billions on not only our bad trade deals but also relies heavily on the billions of dollars in remittances sent from illegal immigrants in the United States back to Mexico ($22 billion in 2013 alone).

First of all, making money off of trade deals is why we have trade deals. Mexicans wouldn’t trade with us if there wasn’t something in it for them.

Second, the $22 billion figure is a lie. If you read the source he links to, a Fox news item, the $22 billion figure is total remittances, not just remittances from illegal immigrants.

Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages;

That’s a foolish and empty promise. If the U.S. government tried to stop remittances, people would just send illegally, creating yet another underground economic activity. We can’t even stop drug cartels from moving billions of dollars across the border every year.

America will only be great as long as America remains a nation of laws that lives according to the Constitution. No one is above the law. The following steps will return to the American people the safety of their laws, which politicians have stolen from them:

I’m pretty sure that paragraph doesn’t actually mean anything.

Triple the number of ICE officers. As the President of the ICE Officers’ Council explained in Congressional testimony: “Only approximately 5,000 officers and agents within ICE perform the lion’s share of ICE’s immigration mission…Compare that to the Los Angeles Police Department at approximately 10,000 officers.

Why in God’s name would we want more ICE officers? They’re one of the most awful groups of people you can name. Whether they’re turning back friendly tourists, keeping out musical styles they don’t understand, jailing people for years and deporting them for crimes they were never convicted of, letting cancer victims die in their custody, or kicking out women because they might have sex with American men, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, it would be hard to find less tolerant bunch of thugs that wasn’t being tracked by the DOJ Civil Rights office.

Nationwide e-verify. This simple measure will protect jobs for unemployed Americans.

So not only does Trump want to triple the number of ICE officers, he also wants to force businesses to do the job that ICE is supposed to be doing, adding even more paperwork and slowing the hiring process.

Defund sanctuary cities. Cut-off federal grants to any city which refuses to cooperate with federal law enforcement.

Again, if you think catching illegal immigrants is so damned important, do it yourself. Don’t force cities to spend their own money on enforcing laws they don’t want to enforce. Make all those ICE agents do their jobs.

Cooperate with local gang task forces. ICE officers should accompany local police departments conducting raids of violent street gangs like MS-13 and the 18th street gang, which have terrorized the country.

Now there’s a group that may be worse than ICE: Gang task forces. (Want to see a gang cop lie? Ask him how he knows someone is in a gang.)

All illegal aliens in gangs should be apprehended and deported.

And all children should have ponies.

Again, quoting Chris Crane: “ICE Officers and Agents are forced to apply the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Directive, not to children in schools, but to adult inmates in jails. If an illegal-alien inmate simply claims eligibility, ICE is forced to release the alien back into the community. This includes serious criminals who have committed felonies, who have assaulted officers, and who prey on children…”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I’m pretty sure it’s not true. It may be that ICE can’t detain these people on an immigration hold, but the states can always lock up criminals.

“…ICE should be working with any state or local drug or gang task force that asks for such assistance.”

Drug task forces. Even worse than gang task forces.

End birthright citizenship. This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid who said “no sane country” would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

Shorter Trump: Wahhh, we can’t deport the brown babies!

Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs. We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program. More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program’s lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two.

The H-1B program ties workers’ visa status to their employer, making it hard for them to change jobs. This reduces their bargaining power. If you change the H1-B program to allow them to become unemployed without losing their jobs, they’ll demand wages much closer to American workers. Of course, that might make employers less likely to sponsor them, so maybe just eliminate the sponsorship requirement and convert it to a general guest worker program.

Some of Trump’s proposals amount to little more than anti-immigrant bigotry. I know his defenders insist he’s only talking about illegal immigrants, but not in these sections. This is pretty much an appeal to group identity:

…Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.

And this is even more explicit:

Requirement to hire American workers first. Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement. In the year 2015, with 92 million Americans outside the workforce and incomes collapsing, we need to companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed.

Or this:

Immigration moderation. Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers. This will help reverse women’s plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.

And then there’s petty shit like this:

Jobs program for inner city youth. The J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program.

Jesus. Trump thinks the reason inner city youths can’t get jobs is because their resumes aren’t getting enough exposure.

And then there’s the naked “save the children” appeal:

Refugee program for American children. Increase standards for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers to crack down on abuses. Use the monies saved on expensive refugee programs to help place American children without parents in safer homes and communities, and to improve community safety in high crime neighborhoods in the United States.

Why not raise taxes on gambling to save the children? Or real estate development? Reality TV shows? Everything seems like a good idea when you cast the alternative as not saving the children.

Even if we ignore the wackier stuff, the failure in economic thinking here — common to most political rhetoric about economics — is that it’s all about Americans as workers, but not about Americans as consumers. Cheap labor means it costs less to produce the goods and service everyone consumes. The laborers get better jobs, we get more stuff. Everybody wins. That’s why pretty much every economic study indicates that immigration is a net advantage for our economy and for the world.

I would have written more about Trump’s immigration policy, but instead I’ll just suggest you read these great pieces by Megan McArdleNick Gillespie, and Robby Soave.

And finally, Peter Suderman takes on the mistake of thinking that Trump actually has policy positions:

In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, for example, Trump wrote that, in conducting his real-estate business, he would draw up architectural plans designed to look far more expensive and thoughtfully designed than they were, or have construction equipment engage in meaningless busywork in order to impress investors with the illusion of activity.

With his half-baked immigration white paper, Trump is doing essentially the same thing, but for his presidential campaign: He’s attempting, through the use of a simple gimmick, to create the illusion of thoughtfully crafted, substantive policy detail.

Which is pretty much where I came in.

Yet Another Tale of the Awful, Awful People at ICE

I have long maintained that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has some of the worst un-American tendencies of any identifiable group in the country. Whether they’re turning back friendly tourists, keeping out musical styles they don’t understand, jailing people for years and deporting them for crimes they were never convicted of, or letting cancer victims die in their custody, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, it would be hard to find a similar bunch of intolerant thugs that wasn’t on the SPLC’s list of hate groups.

Now, via Maggie, here’s another example of ICE depravity, as described by Clay Nikiforuk, a young woman traveling through the United States:

First I was held by Vermont border guards for two hours in the middle of the night on my way to visit Nashville. They searched my bags at least five times. I could not help but notice how often my lingerie and “sexy underwear” were mentioned, how often the condoms they found were looked upon scathingly, and how most of the four male officers’ questions pertained to both. I was baffled as to why this was any of their business and unsure of what their objective was, other than fondling lady’s undergarments.

While I wouldn’t discount the pervert explanation — ICE is a sibling agency to the fondlers at the TSA — my assumption was that the ICE goons did the math something like this:

Lingerie + Condoms = Filthy, Filthy Whore!

The young lady’s next encounter confirms it:

The next time it happened was two weeks later in Montreal’s airport. After scanning my passport, without being asked a single question, I was immediately led to a back waiting room. When I was summoned into an office, the officer cut to the chase: “How much is he paying you to go on this trip?” He was referring to the man I was travelling with.

Confused, I just stared back at him for a few beats.


The next question was whether this man was married or not. The answer, unfortunately for me, was yes. He asked whether I was planning on sharing a hotel bed with this man. I’m not one to sugar coat things and decided that now would not be a particularly good time to be found lying. Again, I answered yes. Righteous, the officer demanded what exactly I was doing in a bed with a married man.

“That’s actually none of your business.”

I had kicked the hornet’s nest. Inflamed, he raised his voice at me that it was his business and that adultery was a crime in America — a crime that he could deny me entry for. He made me tell him my partner’s name and date of birth and threatened to detain him, too. I pointed out that we would be in Miami for a total of forty minutes to catch our next flight to Aruba; hardly enough time to run to our gate, let alone commit adultery. The next thing I knew he was searching my bags, pulling out condoms and waving them in my face.

“I could have you charged with being a working girl! The proof is right here!”

They eventually let her go, but on her third passage through U.S. territory, this happened:

This time I had left the condoms behind. But it was too late – there was a detailed profile of me, in which my nefarious condom-carrying behaviour was noted. Again, I was told to sit and wait for further questioning.

I watched as my entire flight’s passengers whizzed through customs in front of me. I was shaking. By the time someone got around to questioning me, I was told my flight was leaving.

I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I’m currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.

“Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?”

I blinked at him. I couldn’t breathe.

That line about sexual assault came from angry man who was holding a women alone in the room with him against her will. And it’s not like ICE agents haven’t raped women detainees before. The sad thing is that if she had freaked out and, say, gouged out one of his eyeballs with a pen so she could make her escape, some prosecutor would have tried to make it seem like she was the bad guy.

They eventually let her go, but not without further threats and orders not to re-enter the United States.

So, to summarize: ICE agents apparently think that women carrying condoms must be prostitutes. And they must be prostitutes who aren’t smart enough to just buy condoms after crossing the border. And if they’re traveling with a man, he must be either a client or a pimp. And they think stopping adultery is somehow part of their job description. And because of all this, they harassed and frightened this poor woman every time she crossed the border.

On the one hand, having seen how the assholes at ICE treat foreigners, I’m glad I’m a citizen. On the other hand, as a citizen, I’m pissed off that these customs goons are giving foreigners an impression of Americans that makes me look bad.

Finally, in addition to everything else that’s wrong with this series of incidents, think for a moment about what the ICE agents thought they were doing: They believed they had discovered that an attractive and sexually active young woman was coming here to have sex with members of the American male population. And they tried to stop her.

Talk about your un-American values.

Taking a Look at Obama’s Immigration Reform

I just got an email from Cecilia Muñoz, who is the Director of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, outlining the administration’s proposal for immigration reform. Rather than use the abbreviated description in the email, I’ll use the slightly wordier summary on the Whitehouse web site:

FACT SHEET: Fixing our Broken Immigration System so Everyone Plays by the Rules

“So everyone plays by the rules” is a worrisome phrase. The biggest problem with our immigration system is not some people are not playing by the rules, but that the rules themselves are stupid, arbitrary, and cruel. One of the most effective ways to get people to play by the rules is to have good rules.

America’s immigration system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living in the shadows.  Neither is good for the economy or the country.

If we’re going to complain that 11 million people are hiding, let’s be clear about who they’re hiding from. They’re not living in the shadows because they’re afraid of their employers; they’re living in the shadows because they’re afraid of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The page goes on to outline 4 key principles of “President Obama’s commonsense immigration reform proposal”:

Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004 and today border security is stronger than it has ever been.  But there is more work to do.   The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime.  And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.

Doubling border security and building wall sounds wasteful, as does giving law enforcement “the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime,” which also sounds like it will lead to some sort of abridgment of our rights.

Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules. The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable.  At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.

There are a couple of things very wrong with that paragraph. First of all, it shouldn’t be the job of employers to enforce federal immigration policy. That’s the job of the United States government. And just because the government can’t do its job, doesn’t mean they should push these responsibilities onto private employers, turning every business owner into an unpaid ICE agent.

(Some of you may think that’s crazy talk, but it used to be the law of the land up until sometime in the 1980’s. Before that, nobody had to show ID and fill out an I-9 form to take a job. Worrying about an employee’s immigration status just wasn’t the employer’s job, nor had it ever been.)

The second problem is that the President and Congress really ought to ask themselves why employers that hire illegal immigrants are able to “gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules.” Is it because those rules are bad for business? In that case, wouldn’t it make more sense to get rid of the bad rules? Or maybe it’s because illegal immigrants can be exploited. But the reason they are open to exploitation is because they can be imprisoned and deported if they come to the attention of the authorities. If you’re working illegally in the U.S. and you get cheated (or for that matter, if you get robbed or raped or beaten), do you go to the authorities? Or do you try to handle it as best you can on your own?

Earned Citizenship: It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders.

Not only is it impractical, it’s also a very cruel thing to do, ripping all those people away from their friends, families, and communities. Someone has to say it.

The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else.  Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship.

That last sentence has a lot of bad parts. National security and criminal background checks are a good idea — we don’t want terrorists and gangsters to get a free pass — but the devil is in the details, and given that ICE has no sense of proportion and uses their own private definition of criminality by treating misdemeanors as felonies, and dismissals as convictions — I’m more than a little worried about how much damage they can do.

I’m not sure what taxes and penalties they’re talking about here, but I have similar concerns about how those will be calculated. It’s one thing if the IRS just grinds through the process for back taxes, and quite another if the the monkeys at ICE will be assessing penalties of their own.

As for “going to the back of the line,” that’s complete nonsense. “The line” is why so many immigrants come here illegally in the first place. The quota for immigrants who just want a job — and have no special skills or relatives living here — is only about 10,000 people per year. Before the economy collapsed, illegal immigration was at least 500,000 people per year. If they had waited in line, it would have taken 50 years to get a work visa. Nobody is willing to wait that long to make a better life for themselves and their families. Going to the back of the line — even just having “the line” — is how we got here in the first place.

There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.

That would be great if it actually happened. Who’s going to invest in America if they aren’t sure they won’t be kicked out? But this means committing to not kicking people out without a damned good reason. In our three-felonies-a-day society, any government employee who gets paid to kick out immigrants will be able to do so for the stupidest of reasons.

The proposal will also stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents and give them a chance to earn their citizenship more quickly if they serve in the military or pursue higher education.

Great idea. But why isn’t being innocent good enough? Since becoming a citizen would be better for everybody, why make it harder by adding extra criteria?

Streamlining Legal Immigration:  Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules.  For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries.  The President’s proposal will also reunify families in a timely and humane manner.

So the wealthy, the educated, and those with family members here will have it easier than other immigrants? That’s not reform. That’s our immigration policy today. Most of the people who have come here illegally are neither wealthy nor educated — that’s kind of why they want jobs here — and most of them don’t have close family here (aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews don’t count).

Let’s look at the “Streamlining Legal Immigration” section a little closer by examining the detailed items listed further down in the Whitehouse press release:

Keep Families Together: … The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system.

Cut Red Tape For Employers: The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system.

Dropping the essentially racist country caps is a great idea, but there is no principled reason to drop them for employer-sponsored immigrants while keeping them for family-sponsored immigrants. The contrast between these two sections makes clear that the proposed reforms are being driven mostly by the needs of businesses that want to hire immigrants, rather than concern for the welfare of the immigrants themselves. The next provision makes that crystal clear:

“Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas:  The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States.  It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.

In other words, they’re going to allow in cheap high-tech workers so businesses don’t have to pay American high tech workers so much. I guess there’s a lot less political pressure to allow in more graphics designers, artists, waitresses, and auto mechanics.

Finally, check out the thicket of economic micromanagement in these three sections:

Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs:  The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.

Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development: The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for  state and local government officials to promote economic development.

Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories: The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.

Every industry and every single business that wants to hire cheap immigrant labor will have to lobby Congress to make sure their needs are on the approved list. You don’t think that will lead to any corruption, do you?

If we really want to reform our immigration policy and reduce the damage caused by illegal immigration, the solution is to make legal immigration predictable, easy, and fast. Strip out the country caps, shorten the wait for permanent residency, and make it legal for everyone living here to work here.

Bringing a Family Home

A friend of mine has a son who has serving in a branch of the U.S. military. While stationed at a base in another country, he met a young woman. One thing lead to another, nature took its course, and they got married. Shortly thereafter, they had a baby daughter. Then his overseas assignment ended, and he was ordered back to the United States. That’s when things got complicated.

I finally got to meet this new family yesterday. The wife is lovely and a terrific cook, the daughter is very cute. They had a lot of stories to tell about life in the military and in a foreign country. The wife is from a third country, which is where the marriage ceremony took place, and they had interesting stories about her family and culture.

They also told some rather depressing stories about the bureaucratic difficulties they encountered trying to get the family into the United States. (And it is to avoid bureaucratic vengeance that I’m leaving out so many names and locations.) They ended up passing around a lot of paperwork between the U.S. Military and the State Department, and there were a lot of delays. It got so bad that my friend’s son was repremanded by the military for not returning to the U.S. on time. He could have left on time, but he would have had to leave his wife and daughter behind in a foreign country.

I can’t remember all the details, but a few of the problems stand out. For one thing, he had to pay for a criminal background check on his wife, to assure the U.S. immigration folks that he was not bringing a criminal into the country.

The State Department also demanded proof that his wife was not carrying infectious diseases. However, the local hospital used by military dependents was not on the list of hospitals approved for this testing by the State Department, so their records of her clean health were not acceptable. She had to be tested again at an approved hospital, and since this testing was an immigration requirement, not a medical necessity, it wasn’t covered under the military’s family medical plan, so they had to pay for it out-of-pocket.

At one point in the process, related to establishing the status of their daughter, my friend had to get an official transcript from her son’s schools in order to prove that he, a natural born citizen, had been resident in the U.S. for at least five years.

Even after all this, on their last day in that foreign country, they got the runaround at the airport to take care of some last-minute paperwork that nobody had told them they would need.

I can understand the reasons for some of the individual bits of bureaucracy, but taken as a whole, there’s something wrong when a serving member of the military has to go through all this trouble. What really gets me is that this is probably an immigration best-case scenario: The young woman is married to a natural-born U.S. citizen who’s serving his country, and the child is his legal and biological daughter. My guess is that this was probably as easy as immigration can be.

Crushing Immigrants’ Dreams

I’ve been following Jack Marshall’s Ethics Alarms blog for a few months now. He does a good job of discussing ethical issues in the news, but he also has some rather distasteful attitudes about immigration.

In the past, I’ve been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because his ethical opinion, however wrong-headed I believed it to be, conformed more or less to U.S. law. Marshall can’t really advise his business clients to break the law, so it made sense that he would take the law as a given, and try to build his ethical framework around it.

Yesterday, however, Marshall proved me wrong about taking the law as given, by discussing the ethics of a bill before Congress:

In the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress, Democrats are going to push for passage of the Dream Act, the poison pill Sen. Harry Reid cynically attached to legislation that would have resulted in ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” right before the November elections. The G.O.P. blocked the provision, which was really just Harry’s (successful) effort to stave off defeat in his re-election bid by pandering to the Hispanic vote. The fact that he ensured the perpetuation of DADT with his gambit was, as they say, collateral damage.

The Dream Act, however, should have been defeated, and it should be defeated again. Its most recent Senate version was called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. In the House, it was called the American Dream Act. The versions provided essentially the same path to citizenship for, as the bills euphemistically put it, “certain long-term residents who entered the United States as children.”

The Dream Act would give illegal residents a path to citizenship if their illegal entry into the country occurred when they were children, providing they have lived here at least five years, and providing they either go to college or serve in the military, as long as they stay out of trouble and off public assistance. Basically, it would show a bit of compassion to people whose violation of immigration laws was involuntary, and who would otherwise be deported to a country they may not even remember.

Amazingly, Jack Marshall thinks that’s being too nice:

What’s wrong with this plan? Simple: it rewards law-breaking illegal immigrants by providing a tangible benefit to their offspring. It also encourages deception by the parents, who benefit by doing everything in their power to keep their children in the country for five years.

Illegal immigrants–and that’s what the children of illegal immigrants are–should not be going to public schools. They should not be going to college.  They should not be in the country so as to have an opportunity to join the military.

There’s a great ethical principle for you: Punish the children for their parents’ bad acts as a way of discouraging the parents from committing bad acts.

Perhaps we could do this for other crimes? After all, aren’t the children of thieves and robbers benefitting from the proceeds of their parents’ crimes? Maybe they should be prohibited from attending public schools or receiving welfare benefits. And maybe children should not be eligible for child support payments from a non-custodial parent if the custodial parent was at fault in the divorce, because we wouldn’t want to reward spouses who dishonor their marriage.

Or maybe this just isn’t a very good ethical principle.

The reflex Democratic argument, intellectually dishonest and shamelessly manipulative, is that to deny the “dream” is to cruelly punish innocent children for their parent’s acts. All children, however, must endure the consequences of their parent’s bad decisions.

Here Marshall is the one being intellectually dishonest. He’s talking about deportation as if it was some kind of natural phenomenon. The only natural consequence to children if their parents bring them to the United States illegally is that they are end up living in the United States.

Deportation, on the other hand, is something that the federal government does to them by force. Marshall is essentially arguing that it’s okay to force some children to leave the country they’ve grown up in because we have a policy saying it’s okay to force some children to leave the country they’ve grown up in.

It is in no way “punishing” children to make them return to the life, country and opportunities they would have experienced if their parents hadn’t chosen to “jump ahead in line” and enter the country illegally.

These children have a life here, and now you want to take them away from it, against their will and the will of their parents. Of course that’s punishment. If it weren’t punishment, you wouldn’t have to force them.

Jack Marshall doesn’t even believe his own argument, as he revealed earlier when he said that we should deport illegal immigrants who had been brought here as children so as not to reward the parents for their illegal acts. Now he’s saying that deporting these children is not a punishment. Well, which is it? If it’s not a punishment, how could it possibly discourage the parents? The only thing I can think of is that Marshall wants us to believe that letting them stay is a reward, but making them leave is not a punishment. It doesn’t get much more intellectually dishonest than that.

I fully support immigration reform, including a path for current illegals to legitimize their presence here and stricter measures to keep new illegals out. The Dream Act creates a permanent ongoing endorsement of illegal immigration as parental benefit, and that is intolerable, destructive, and wrong.

So it’s okay to let the current illegal immigrants stay, but no more ever again? Good luck making that work.

Marshall reveals a little more of his ethical thinking in the comments, where someone named Ethics Bob calls him out:

My heart tells me no, and I think my mind does, too. I don’t see how you can argue that it’s not punishing, say, a 16-yr old whose parents brought him to the US illegally when he was-3? to deport him to a place he’s never known.

The sins of the parents shouldn’t be visited on the innocent children. Didn’t somebody worthy say that?

To which Marshall replies:

My mind and heart, if given a choice between no consequence to the child and a penalty, would choose the former. It would choose no consequence to the child over a benefit, too. But there isn’t a neutral choice. A society that endorses a familial benefit to lawbreaking is cutting its own throat. Between the two available options, the only fair and rational choice is to refuse the benefit, which means a default penalty.

(Note that Marshall is now calling it a “penalty,” thus further undermining his earlier statement that it’s not a punishment, unless he’s playing some really silly word games.)

Even if you believe that illegal immigration is as terrible as Marshall does, his argument here only holds water if the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is magically effective. Otherwise, the choice is not between letting them stay or deporting them. The choice is between letting them stay or deporting a few of them while the rest stay in hiding as part of a vast illegal underground that is poor, lawless, and suffering. That has never worked out well.

And then later, Marshall comments:

It is unjust–we don’t agree. But having a law and simultaneously rewarding parents for breaking it is worse. This an ethics conflict, for sure.

These kinds of conflicts arise all the time in law. There’s a lot to be said for not letting people benefit from bad acts because it encourages them, but that doesn’t mean we should pursue retribution forever. Sooner or later, everyone is better off if we give up, get over it, and move on to better things.

When people get so far in debt they can never pay it off, we don’t say “tough luck, you got yourself into that mess, now you’ve got to live with it forever.” Instead, we let them declare bankruptcy. Their creditors don’t get back the money they deserve, but the were never going to get that money anyway. And once bankrupt people get out from under that crushing debt, they have a reason to become productive members of society again. Yes, this option gives people an incentive to borrow and spend recklessly, but it also gives them a way out of a bad situation, so they can begin contributing to the economy again.

More to the point, almost every legal remedy or punishment comes with a time limit. Fail to pay a debt, and after a few years your creditors can no longer sue you to recover it. Breach a contract, and after a certain amount of time you can no longer be sued to enforce it. Injure someone in a car accident, and if they don’t sue for damages within the time limit, you’re free and clear. You can even commit a crime–except for murder and a few other heinous crimes–and when the statute of limitations runs out, you get away with it forever.

These limits exist to serve a number of purposes, but one of them is to give people the peace of mind they need perform as useful members of society. We all do bad things from time to time–especially when we’re young–but our legal system recognizes that there is little to be gained by holding it over our heads forever. So if you smoked some pot, or drove away from a minor car accident, or lied on a loan application, or ran out on a restaurant bill, you don’t have to worry about it forever.

Imagine the alternative: You’ve survived to reach middle age. You have a job, you’re raising a family, you’re a homeowner, a church-goer, and a member of the Rotary club. Then one day the police show up at your door with a warrant to arrest you for assault and battery on a guy you punched in the face at a rock concert twenty-five years ago when you were a 19 year old kid.

That may be justice, but it’s very bad social policy. And it’s pretty much the life of any illegal immigrant, who could be deported at any time. At least with the Dream act, they won’t face deportation for things they did as children.

Illegal Aliens to be Welcomed in Denver

With all of the bat-shit crazy, radical fear mongering about how illegal aliens will destroy our great Christian nation, Denver may actually pass a ballot initiative welcoming them with open arms. Or tentacles, maybe. The Wall Street Journal has an article all about it. (Sorry, it may be behind a pay wall.)

Ballot Initiative 300 would require the city to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, stocked with Ph.D. scientists, to “ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact “with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.”

Jeff Peckman (no relation to Walter Peck, as far as I know), who is the mastermind behind the initiative considers this to be a jobs program. Once the aliens (who he is sure have been visiting Earth for some time already) know they are welcome in Denver, they will show themselves and all of the great engineers and scientists of the world will come to the city so they can start to work out how the alien technologies function. Why is Denver the best location for this ambassadorial effort? According to Mr. Peckman:

The city is perched a mile above sea level, so why wouldn’t travelers from a distant galaxy stop here first?
But don’t worry, there is a voice of sanity led by the main opposition group to the initiative.
They face an impassioned opposition led by Bryan Bonner, who dismisses the unidentified-flying-object buffs as delusional if not outright frauds.
One thing about Mr. Bonner: He spends his spare time crawling through spooky spaces, deploying remote digital thermometers, seismographs, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and Nerf balls in pursuit of evidence of the paranormal. He is, in short, a ghost hunter.
And he has rallied his colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society to fight Initiative 300 as an embarrassment to science–and to Denver.

Yes. The voice of reason and sanity is coming from ghost hunters who spend their time, when not fighting the alien hunters (the people looking for ET, not the Minuteman Project people, that is), taking pictures of EMF fields and trying to create lens distortions in their out-of-focus photos. The basic premise of their argument is that hunting for UFOs is obviously stupid while ghost hunting is obviously smart.

Mr. Bonner, the ghost hunter, is fighting back with his own website asserting that “Peckman and his ‘little green people’ are not representative of the people of Denver.”
“Little green people,” Mr. Peckman responds with outrage, is a “racial slur.”

You just can’t make up stuff like this.

Are Restaurants That Hire Illegal Immigrants Ethical?

I just noticed that ethicist Jack Marshall has addressed the ethics of hiring illegal immigrants:

Are Restaurants That Hire Illegal Immigrants Ethical?


Sigh. I agree with a lot of what Jack Marshall has to say about ethics. For example, he’s dead-on to call out the Obama administration for this censorious nonsense. But when it comes to economics issues, especially having to do with employment, he gets into all kinds of muddled thinking, and it just pisses me off.

Here’s the setup:

The New York Times Diner’s Journal asks the question, invoking the images of the 2004 film “A Day Without a Mexican,” in which all of California’s Mexicans suddenly disappear and the state is thrust into a world with far fewer gardeners, nannies, fruit-pickers, maids, cooks, and dishwashers. The film is the high-water mark of the essentially unethical rationalization for illegal immigration that is one of the main culprits for America’s unconscionable tolerance of it–that without illegals, the economy and quality of life of Americans would break down.

I’ve never been a big fan of that argument myself. Illegal immigrants may do the work that Americans don’t want to do, but if they all left, it’s not like the work wouldn’t get done. Those jobs would just have to be filled by Americans. It’s inefficent, but it’s not an economic apocalypse.

Marshall puts his objection a little differently:

For decades, one of the chief arguments against eliminating slavery was that it would cripple the economy of the South: the 1848 documentary “A World Without Slaves” would have probably been very similar to the 2004 film, but grainier.  Giving equal rights to women has devastated the quality of public schools, put men out of work, forced kids to grow up under the care of strangers, and made men to do a heck of a lot more housework. Well, too bad: it was still the right thing to do.

I’m not sure what slavery has to do with the voluntary employment of illegal immigrants, but Marshall is certainly right that fear of economic hardship does not justify slavery or unequal rights for women.

I should point out that the only way slavery ever seemed economically justified is because its advocates weren’t really including the welfare of the slaves in their calculations. I imagine pretty much the same is true for women’s equality. It’s easy to make benefit-cost arguments come out in your favor it you decide beforehand that certain people just don’t count.

Naturally; when you get used to an illegal or unethical short cut and they erect a wall to keep you out, you have to find another way, and until that becomes institutionalized, the change is inconvenient, disruptive, and probably expensive.

So if restaurants stopped exploiting illegal immigrants while encouraging dishonest conduct and warping national immigration and security policies for their own profit…, the same would be true…Assuming that the establishments would have to pay fair rather than exploitive wages to America citizens, sure: it will cost more. “At the end of the day, the customer is going to end up paying for it,” a chef and restaurateur told Diner’s Journal. “We’ll have to pay higher wages, more taxes and then we will have to charge more.”

Cry me a river. The fair price of a commodity or service is made up of the fair cost of its components.

So illegal immigrant wages are unfair and American wages are fair, therefore it is unethical to hire illegal immigrants because it’s unfair. I don’t see exchanging ethical for fair gets us anywhere.

Yup: a used car dealer whose cars are stolen will be able to sell his cars dirt cheap. Is that an argument for allowing theft?

Well, no, because he’s getting the cars from someone who did not agree to give them to him. This is different from the restaurant that pays low wages to the busboys because the busboys agreed to the wage. In one case, the original owners of the cars are forced to give them up, in the other case, the agreement is voluntary.

This is the part of Marshall’s argument that pisses me off so much. I think the concepts of choice and consent are the fundamental building blocks of any serious discussion about morality, ethics, law, or economics. Yet Marshall seems to be disregarding choice and consent completely, as if they have no ethical implications.

As near as I can tell, he says that paying someone an “unfair” amount of money in a consensual labor agreement is morally equivalent to stealing from them. In fact, he seems to suggest that similar to slavery. But by this argument, buying a car from somebody for an amount that is “unfairly” low is the moral equivalent of stealing the car, even though the original owner consented to the exchange.

Here it’s Marshall whose argument is paralleling that of the slavery apologists. They used to say that black people didn’t really want freedom–no matter what they said–because they were all simple dumb animals. Marshall is similarly implying that people who take low-paying jobs are too dumb to know better.

Laws and regulations are in place for a reason, and that reason is the general welfare of the nation’s legal citizens.

Laws are in place because legislatures pass them. We hope that they’re there for the general welfare, and it’s useful for civil order that we pretend to believe it’s true, but have you seen how laws are made? You think they’re really getting everything right?

I realize that many (most?) of Marshall’s clients are businesses, and he can’t very well advise them to break the law, but that doesn’t mean the laws themselves are ethical. I mean, we’re talking about the United States Congress and their state equivalents. Even if you believe, say, that minimum wage laws are a good idea and that there really is a fair wage, the current minimum wage is the result of a lot of political wheeling and dealing. The bills that established the wage rates are compromises, and they’ve been influenced by campaign contributions, trade-offs for other legislation, and vacation trips provided by lobbyists. This doesn’t sound like a process that could result in anything we might call ethical

There are laws requiring legal procedures in immigration because of vital and undeniable social, economic, demographic, health, national security, labor, social service, educational, entitlement and law enforcement considerations.

Saying that immigration procedures have a “vital and undeniable” purpose is just begging the question. Most of those issues are clearly and undeniably open to argument.

My message to the restaurateur: your problems and the price of a steak do not stand up against all of this, not by a long-shot.

I wonder how Jack Marshall goes about finding restaurants that don’t hire illegal immigrants. Does he ask? If so, does he insist on a guaranty or ask to inspect the I-9 forms? By his own argument this is ethically required, otherwise he’d be feeding money into an enterprise that encourages illegal immigration.

Or maybe he doesn’t go to restaurants, in which case I wonder where and how he gets his food. I hear that the agricultural industry has a lot of illegal immigrants working in it.

Firing 1,000 illegal immigrants, and thus creating less incentive for other illegals to follow them as well as giving those already here a good reason to go home, does not counter-balance the 1000 Americans who get their jobs.

Er, but earlier he said that American workers would have to be paid more. Unless restaurant owners have additional funds that for some reason they just haven’t been using until now, they’re not going to be able to afford to pay for as many labor hours as the illegal workers were providing. They’re going to have to cut back. When something becomes more expensive, people generally buy less of it. Labor included.

They don’t counter-balance 500 Americans or 100 Americans or even one. One American who has a job is a net gain of one law-abiding citizen who should not be out of work because of an industry’s greedy exploitation of people who have no right to be here, even if that one lucky American’s job requires all 12 million illegal immigrants to lose theirs.

Jack Marshall seems like a nice guy on his web site, so I think we can assume he doesn’t mean this in a bigoted way. On the other hand, it’s easy to pretend to win arguments about public policy if you declare that some people just don’t count. Again, slave owners bolstered their economic arguments by ignoring (or using fictitious measures of) the welfare of slaves. Yes, if illegal immigrants aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit, then we can stop worrying about the issue.

On the other hand, Marshall is also complaining about “an industry’s greedy exploitation” in the same sentence. According to Marshall, restaurants are exploiting immigrants by offering them low-paying jobs, but if the restaurants offered them no job at all, that would be fine, and forcing them out of the country would be even better.

Aaaaaarrrrrgh! It make my head hurt that people–including smart people of good will–can believe things like this. I suspect that from Marshall’s point of view I’m only going to make things worse, but I have to point out that I get the same kind of argument whenever I argue that our current laws against prostition do more harm the good. Someone inevitably responds that prostitution exploits women, while completely ignoring the fact that jail isn’t good for women either.

If giving illegal immigrants a low wage is mean, isn’t forcing them out of the job and deporting them even worse?

So: are restaurants that hire illegal immigrants ethical?


Despite everything I’ve said, there are all kinds of ethical problems related to various employment taxes and insurance issues. These would all go away if our government just let people come here to work without the pig-headed quotas and waiting lists. But I’m not quite convinced that our government’s stupidity is enough to negate the ethical obligations of the restuarant owners and their employees.

On the other hand, it may just be making the best of a bad situation. In any case, when I go to a restaurant, the immigration status of the employees never even enters my mind.

Illegal Immigration and the Criminal Enterprise

In my previous post about illegal immigration, I asserted that,

What illegal immigration amounts to is taking your turn when you’re not supposed to. It’s the moral equivalent of fishing without a permit, or running a red light when there’s no other traffic.

That brought the following response from commenter “mahtso”:

“Arizona is the busiest entry point for illegal immigrants. State and federal investigators estimate that their fees generate between $1.7 billion and $2.5 billion for smuggling rings.” The Arizona Republic ( July 2, 2008.

To me, this is a far cry from running a red light.

The difference is that I was talking about the illegal immigrants themselves, whereas mahtso and the Arizona Republic are talking about the criminal enterprises that spring up to smuggle them into the United States. Since the illegal immigrants are a source of funds for the criminal enterprise, they are obviously somewhat responsible for it. But they’re not the only ones responsible, because illegal immigration follows a sad pattern that we’ve all seen before.

Consider that if I feel like buying some beer, my money goes to the fine folks at my local Foremost Liquors. Or my local Jewel grocery store. Or Walgreens or CVS or White Hen or 7-Eleven. But if this was 90 years ago, back when booze was illegal under Prohibition, my beer money would have gone to a bunch of Chicago mobsters.

That’s the problem with our current immigration policy. We’ve taken away the legal avenues of immigration from many potential immigrants, so they are turning to criminals for help. It’s bad for everybody except the criminals. But none of this would be a problem if we made legal immigration easier. Who needs to hire a coyote to sneak them across the border when Greyhound does it faster, cheaper, and safer?

This is not exactly a radical proposal. Keep in mind that for most of this country’s history, immigrants simply got off the boat, went through a brief interview and maybe a medical checkup for dangerous contagions, and that was it. Welcome to the new world.

To fix the problems with our current immigration system, we wouldn’t have to go quite that far, and we could certainly keep our current practices of screening for people who pose threats to public health or national security. All I’d like is for us to get rid of the arbitrary annual quotas that force otherwise acceptable immigrants to wait so long for their turn to enter.It’s these long waits — often five to seven years, but effectively forever for low-skilled workers without family members already in the U.S. — that encourage many potential immigrants to seek illegal methods of entry.

Eliminating the quotas would simplify and speed up the immigration process because immigrants would not have to prove — and immigration authorities would not have to verify — the various family and employment connections that are used to determine which waiting list the immigrants belong in. If we could get the immigration approval process down to 30-90 days, I’d think most immigrants would take the legal route into our country.

This might even improve national security. As mahtso pointed out, smuggling people into the United States is big business. This means that any terrorists who want to sneak across the border have a vast criminal enterprise to help them out. But if we make legal immigration easy, the border smuggling operations will dry up, and terrorists will find it that much harder to sneak in.

Changing the immigration process would lead to a surge in immigration as the next several years worth of immigrants enter all at once (although we could phase it in slowly if necessary), but keep in mind that illegal immigrants who are already here might be more interested in returning home if they knew they could come back whenever they wanted.